Western Fiction posted September 11, 2010

This work has reached the exceptional level
A man in the middle of nowhere ...

The Horseman

by Realist101

Calvin leaned on the wooden fence, his eyes fixed on the paint colt running blindly around the pen. It was a three year old, wild as a March hare and clearly wanting to leap the fence to get back with the herd.

There were no other paints this year. Most of the young ones were duns and bays. A couple of grullas and a palomino. Calvin decided the paint had the best legs and most gumption. He stood watching the action of the young horse's movements. He was a natural at changing leads and looked smooth to boot. But he'd get teased for riding a splash horse. This one was mostly white, a medicine hat. His ancestors would be proud, but in today's world, such things didn't matter much. It was all about the money. And he was burnin' daylight.

"Hey Cal! Ready?" His partner was hollerin', he was mounted up, his young horse prancing, steam billowing from his nostrils in the cold morning air, ready to go. Calvin threw his rig onto the back of his old gelding.

"Yup, just about." He didn't feel much like yakking this morning. The coffee had been sour and it matched his mood. All he wanted to do was get the strays back in and work on the paint colt. Old Bighead here was about ready to retire and hopefully some lady would give him a good home; just ride him on weekends. He'd been a faithful and reliable cowhorse, always willing to do anything asked of him, no fussing or refusals. But now, the cold was in his bones, age wasn't kind to a working horse. Cal gave his buddy a pat on the neck as he swung easily into the Wade saddle. And their day began with a slow lope out past the ranch gate, into the morning sun.

The day was dawning clear and bright. The cold snap the night before had turned the sage and what grass was left into icy crystals. It creaked as the horses made their way out to where the strays were last seen, the sound like tiny shards of glass breaking. The cowpokes didn't speak. Their thoughts were private and few words were needed to do this job. But ahead was a sight that made both men pull up.

"Whoa, Big ... easy." Calvin stared at the silver vehicle sitting alone on their boss's land. It clearly did not belong here.

"What'cha make a that, Cal?" Herman held his colt tight, it was still dancing even after the gallop out.

"Don't know, Herm. Looks like maybe a hunter? Let's get the tag numbers ... ."
He walked Bighead closer. The plates were from out of state. And there was no sign that the SUV belonged to someone out hunting.

Calvin moved up behind the Jeep, his mind ready to memorize the tags. The still morning was shattered when a rifle shot rang out; and as Herman's heart exploded, his colt jumped out from under him and was gone in two seconds flat. Cal spurred Bighead and they trailed the buckskin colt in a dead run, toward the stand of aspens, almost a mile away. Calvin hoped this wasn't where the shot had come from, but there was no time to waste. He had to get to cover. And fast. Another shot rang out. He began zig-zagging Big as fast as he could. Another shot, but they had made it to the treeline. The buckskin was no where to be seen but Calvin didn't have time to worry about the colt. He jumped off his horse's back as he grabbed his own rifle from the scabbord. Breathless, he leaned back onto a tree trunk, waiting, wondering what the hell had just happened.

"Good God, what the hell ... , what the sam hell ... ." He had just seen his partner murdered. It just sank in, he could be next. His breath in the cold air would give him away too, if someone got too close. He peered around the tree, but saw nothing except the prairie and the distant shape of the silver Jeep.

All he could do was sit and wait. He knew this area like the back of his hand, these quakies were isolated, an island of trees. With nothing but prarie on each side. He hunkered over to Big and tied him loosely to a limb nearby, hoping he wouldn't be a clear target. But he needed him close, just in case. The horse knew things weren't right. He stood, alert and wary. And he nickered for his buddy, but the colt Hermy had been riding was no where in sight. There were no sounds now, just the man and horse breathing shallow breaths of fear and confusion.

Just as Calvin and Big began to relax another shot rang out, this one splintering the trunk of a tree not fifteen feet to their left. Cal grabbed the reins and as he started to swing up, another shot rang out and his horse fell dead in front of him, saving his life. He managed to hang onto his rifle and fell back into the tree again, blood from Big splattered all over his face and coatsleeves. Anger replaced fear now. Someone had just killed his horse and the warrior in him came alive. He always carried ammo in his pocket and it paid off this time.

Calvin's Indian name was Little Hawk. As a child he had been keenly aware of others' mannerisms and habits, thus his name. Now he had to become as a hawk, keen-eyed and aware of everything around him. He scanned the aspens, the sparse stand was too easy to see through. He darted from tree to tree, trying to get to the other side of the grove. Another shot rang out. He froze, hugging another tree. There was no fear now. His instinct to survive was in high gear, there would be no mercy if he saw his attacker. Little Hawk was a sharp shooter and this skill would serve him well if he could get a line of sight on the person or people after him. His jaw twitched in anticipation. He called on his spirit brother to guide him to safety. And to take his faithful friend Big and his partner Herman to the green fields and lodges of the ones who waited in the sky. He became as a ghost, moving low, quick, with the movement of a cougar hunting. And he came out of the trees to find the body of Herman's colt, it too, dead. A fresh surge of anger flushed through his veins and he circled back to the left, back toward where Big lay in a pool of his life's blood.

Little Hawk lay down flat, next to his dead horse, using the body as a stand to steady his rifle. Thirst began to rattle his throat, but there was a slight movement near the Jeep. His foe was returning to his vehicle.

The old Sharps had belonged to his grandfather, then his father. It was now the prized possession of Calvin Little Hawk Greene. And he lay it carefully across the old gelding who had been his mount for the last six years through thick and thin, heat and cold and now death. The pasty man settling into the driver's seat of the vehicle never knew what hit him, he was dead before he could turn the key in the ignition.


"Well, Cal, I am sure sorry about Hermy. He was a good hand. I'll have to have you stay here and make an official statement, then you're free to go." The sheriff was impressed and had much respect for Calvin Greene. He was a young man of few words, but always meant what he said and dealt with everyone in an above board manner. He knew what Calvin said was the truth.

"Will I get my gun back, Sheriff?"

"Sure thing, Calvin. They have to check it all out. It's routine. Nobody'll hurt your gun, son."

"Thanks." Calvin was having a hard time coming back to reality. He had been at death's door. Lost a friend, his good old horse. He wanted nothing more than to leave this place and return to his grandfather's cabin up in the mountains. But trapping was no good to live on nowadays, he had to work. But the desire was strong. Almost overpowering. His eyes blazed dark with resentment at the situation.

"Sheriff, when can I go? I gotta get back to the ranch and let Mr. Brock know what happened."

"Don't worry son, he's on his way. We called him just after you got here. And we appreciate your honesty Calvin. It's a shame what's happened. Damn drug dealers. They're like cockroaches. Just a plague." With that, the big man slammed the papers in his hands down onto his desk in pure frustration.

"Will you be able'ta find the others involved in this? I mean, someone had to be coming for that stuff."

"I doubt it. We do have an eye in the sky, if we're lucky, we'll see someone out there looking for that Jeep. But these guys have communications. So, who knows. I promise to let you know though, okay?"

"Sure, sheriff. I just wanna get outta here."

"Hang on, kid. I see Brock's truck now."

The cold air blasted through the doors of the office, as the owner of Double D Ranch stomped inside.

"Mr. Brock! Cal's here ... he's okay. Been through a helluva time though."

"Calvin, what happened?" Mr. Brock was almost like a father to his hands, but still a taskmaster.

"We came up on a Jeep sittin' there, Bill. When I rode up to get it's tag numbers, they shot Herm, I took off behind his horse. Me'n Big got to the trees, you know that small stand out in the forty? Then more shots 'n they killed Big too. I got lucky 'n came back around and I got the guy with my Sharps. That's all." Calvin sat, his heart heavy. He couldn't believe this was happening. The air in the office was stale with cigar smoke, his lungs began to constrict. And he stood to go outside.

"Can I go now, Sheriff?"

"Sure son, you're free to go. Thanks again, Calvin."

"Okay ... I'll get a ride, Mr. Brock."

He stepped out into the cold Montana air, breathed deep and walked to the cafe next door. He would get a ride to the ranch from someone. The town was small and everyone helped each other. And when he got back, the bunkhouse looked strangely smaller, less like home.

The smoke that came from the metal chimney was welcoming though and he went in, washed his face while he thought of his friend and partner Hermy. He wished he had been nicer to him this morning. He wished he had done a lot of things. But it was too late, he had to keep at it, this thing called life. He gathered his lariat to begin the task of breaking the paint colt he called Tanka. And he would be proud to ride him.

copyright, Susan E. Miller

Story of the Month contest entry


I would like to dedicate this to my friends Morning Mist and AmFunny. Also to Stanjo. And also c-lucas, and all those who loves the west and the fresh air of the mountains. Thank you for reading and to Anne for the use of a beautiful photo too.
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